“The body of the Church, enriched by the splendor of its Founder, is augmented by the hosts of saints and is made resplendent by religion and learning, so that those who come after draw profit from the concourse of the learned.”
- The Monk Jonas, Life of St. Columban (early 7th century)
As for the saints who are in the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” (my translation)
- Psalm 16.3
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
- Psalm 101.6
Today we begin a journey through the life of Columbanus, the greatest of the Irish peregrini, those wandering missionary/monks who played such a large role in the middle years of the Celtic Revival.
Concerning our subject, John T. McNeill writes, “There is something difficult for twentieth-century minds to grasp in this seventh-century Irishman who by choice lived below our poverty level; who founded a series of monasteries among foreign peoples; who made friends of bears and squirrels in a forest retreat; who wrote and enforced the severest ascetic rules; who took it upon himself to give advice to popes and dared to rebuke rulers with power to put him to death; who preached diligently from a fund of biblical knowledge; who was unsurpassed in classical learning among his contemporaries, loving and in a free way imitating the Latin poets; and who in his late years wrote a versified letter in a rare meter which, he explains, was practiced by Sappho.”
We could add much more, and in this series on the life, ministry, and writings of Columbanus, we will. Suffice it to say for now that, of all the saints now lying in the earth, awaiting that great day of resurrection, few offer more in the way of excellence to delight, instruct, and challenge us than this amazing scholar, missionary, teacher, and foundation builder.
Columbanus was born in 543 in Leinster, Ireland, and he died in 615 in Bobbio, Italy. The path between those two locales was, during Columbanus’ lifetime, augmented and adorned with the largest cache of spiritual writings of any Father of the Celtic Revival, as well as four monasteries, thousands of converts to Christ, dozens of disciples, and not a few chagrined priests, popes, and magistrates.
It is good for us to study the lives of great saints, to set our eyes on the faithful of the land. Psalm 16.3 can refer to those saints who are our contemporaries, as well as to those who have long since gone to glory (the word on, in NKJV, in the first part of the verse can be equally translated in). We all need saints in our lives, to journey with us and provide models of excellence to delight, encourage, and guide us in our walk with and work for the Lord (Heb. 10.24; 12.1). The concourse of their life and learning can be a source of great encouragement to us.
And if those saints were also peregrini, like Columbanus, living and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus wherever their calling took them, then we can expect to gain valuable lessons in how we may make the most of our opportunities for serving the Lord in our Personal Mission Field.
We will be following two primary sources in our journey through the life and ministry of Columbanus. Not long after the saint passed into glory, a monk named Jonas, who had joined the monastery in Bobbio which Columbanus founded, was tasked with the responsibility of preparing a record of the saint’s achievements. His biography, unlike many of the later hagiographies from this period, is only a little embellished with what will seem to us as extraordinary events. He tells Columbanus’ story as he was able to gather it from those who knew and worked with him.
We will also be exploring in some detail the many letters, sermons, poems, and other spiritual writings of the saint himself.
Like Columbanus, we have all been called to the Lord’s mission of seeking His Kingdom and glory, making disciples as we are going, and contributing to the building-up of the Body of Christ. Your Personal Mission Field is as much a part of God’s plan for extending the rule of King Jesus as Columbanus’ work in Ireland, Gaul, Switzerland, and Italy. We are as much those who have been sent on peregrinatio pro Christo as Columbanus, Colum Cille, Gaul, Brendan, Fursa, or any of the other great missionary/monks of the Celtic Revival. Every day our journey with the Lord presents us with opportunities for channeling His grace and truth to the people around us. Columbanus will provide us with many examples and much teaching to help us affect, not only the people, but the culture, the society, and the times in which we live with the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
My prayer is that we will learn much about growing in Christ and serving Him in our Personal Mission Field. Together, let’s seek the Lord to profit from this saint, resplendent in religion and learning, so that we might increase in the Lord as well. Journeying through the life of Columbanus can lead us into greater heights of love for God and more practical and consistent ways of loving our neighbors, and thus realizing more of the Kingdom and glory of God to which we have been called (1 Thess. 2.12).
And that is a journey well worth the taking.
1. Have you mapped out your Personal Mission Field? Watch this brief video and download the worksheet. Map our your Mission Field and get ready to start working it as we follow the life of Columbanus together.
Psalm 16.1-3, 11 (All to Christ: Jesus Paid it All)
Preserve me, O my God; I refuge seek in You.
You alone are all my good, my Lord and Savior true!
Refrain v. 11
Make me know life’s way! Pleasures fill Your hand;
Fill my life with joy each day! Before Your face I stand.
The saints within the earth, majestic in their day,
Delight me with the worth of all they do and say.
Lord, thank You for this opportunity to journey through the life of Columbanus, that great saint. Grant that throughout this journey, I may…
T. M. Moore
Visit our bookstore (click here) to discover the many free resources available for you to use in growing your faith and encouraging others. Start using these resources to work your Personal Mission Field.
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 Jonas, Life of St. Columban, Dana Carleton Munro, ed, and tr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, nd), p. 3.
 John T. McNeill, The Celtic Churches (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 167, 168.